Expat Life

Why hike? The physical and psychological benefits are well known but the sheer pleasure of it can’t be beat

A country bridge to adventure. But watch your step!

Editor’s note: This is the eighth of an eight-part series by writer / photographer Brian Buckner about hiking in the Cuenca area. To read the earlier installments, see the links at the bottom of the article.

For me, it’s about a myriad of things. You can entertain yourself by researching a few quotes from John Audubon and John Muir about hiking, I enjoy their quotes the most. There are many benefits both physiological and psychological from a brisk hike or walk. Here’s a few that might interest you but the reality is, the good reasons are endless.

Psychological Benefits

I have a little trick and I call it, “Do something different.” So, when you’re not feeling your best, you should do something different to sort of knock yourself off high center, get yourself back on the ground. A walk or a hike is a supreme anxiety reducer. No kidding, if you find yourself out of sorts for any reason, a brief period of exercise will usually get you headed back in the right direction. And, you need only open the door and walk out to begin your walk. Ten minutes later, the world will seem like a much friendlier place.

Physical Benefits

Several physical benefits to hiking/walking immediately come to my mind. The trail will trim up your physique, that’s for sure. But, you’ll only get out what you put in. It’s not always about weight loss. It can be about weight distribution too. High altitude seems to hasten the effects of a strong walking/hiking regimen. I was in great shape when I arrived here in Cuenca but I’ve dropped some weight and done some redistribution also. I feel great and so does Edie, we walk almost everywhere we go.

Hikers take in a good view of Cuenca.

Remember that if you’re short of breath and your legs are burning as you ascend a steep trail that you are making more red blood cells to carry oxygen to both muscles and lungs. It’s a good thing, try to remember how much good you’re doing your body! In the process of trimming up, if you apply even moderately serious efforts to your walking/hiking regimen, you will likely have a positive reduction of blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Mine have again both dropped significantly since arriving in Ecuador and simply continuing my normal exercise regimen here. If these levels aren’t a concern of yours, then simply enjoy the brisk air and the refreshing walk/hike; you’ll live longer anyway. I always have a pack on the trail so I consider hiking as a load bearing activity. As such, it will help in increasing bone density over time. That’s good news! In the end, who doesn’t sleep better after a day of physical activity, I know I do. You probably will too after a great day out hiking the trails. After a good ten mile day on your feet, gaining entrance to slumberland is going to be coming much easier.

Going Green

There’s been a lot of talk the past few years about going green. That means different things to different people but here’s one perspective. Why not just connect or re-connect with nature?

An Aplomado falcon perches along the trail.

Seriously, take the world around you a little more seriously and reserve less time for taking yourself seriously, you’ll be ahead of the game with this type of focus. And, the big blue and green marble we live on needs your attention. Find out more about what’s going on in the green world around you. Take a break and leave the city behind. I’m not a tree hugger but I know this, we have a cool planet full of wonderful and interesting things. It’s a good idea to help our world how and whenever you can.

Creating awareness is a fun path that allows many ways  for your creative ideas to reach others promoting a better understanding of our physical world. I use my photography skill sets to help accomplish this. You can use the skills you have to help communicate about nature to other people.

Getting Started

So, now you’re in Ecuador, or maybe even Cuenca, and you want to get started hiking right away. You’re either new here or new to hiking or both, where do you start? All great questions, let’s take a look at how it’s happened for Edie and I.

When we first moved here, we immediately got involved in community service by teaching younger children at a rural school. It was there that I met a guy who I knew led a few hikes as I had seen mention of it on Facebook. I told him that Edie and I wanted to go hiking with them and that we were fairly experienced hikers. He quickly informed me that their group was full and generally stayed that way. So, in effect, I was sort of out of luck. Later, after a couple of months passed, he informed me there were a couple of openings in the hiking group and the rest is history. We were able to “get in.”

Simultaneous to this, we had begun taking the city buses out to the country and de-boarding at the end of their line, their turnaround spot. From there, I used a hodge-podge of Google Maps, Google Earth, Here Maps and the Moovit App to find my way around and get back to either the same bus line or another one. We would piece together a route and just make it work. As time passed, we broadened our horizons and began to range further out and also into some less civilized territory, fun stuff! Before we knew it, we were checking out the countryside and meeting lots of new people while out and about hiking. And, we were learning the bus lines.

Striking Out On Your Own

Partly because we are both photographers, we go on our own often. Others don’t like waiting around while serious photography involving tripods and other related support equipment gets under way. We aren’t going to be inconveniencing our hiking buds.

Photographers find fabulous subjects along the trail.

Please read carefully…we found out a lot about hiking in the area from the leader of the group we sometimes hike with who we met while doing community service. Take heed, get involved, see what’s up in your community. Helping others and meeting new people is a great way to have opportunities for all kinds of things knocking at your door. We didn’t become totally dependent on the plans or invitations of others. We were proactive, looking for our own spots and ways to get there. In order to be successful at some of what I am writing about, you have to be self motivating and willing to just strike out on your own at times. Since we bought our truck and had it outfitted, we are often in remote areas hiking never seeing another human. You have to be willing to just try things out on your own at times. I don’t mean be foolish and throw caution to the wind, I mean put your best foot forward and just go, get out there, you don’t need anyone else to get started. Take charge of yourself and just hop the bus and take off. You’ll figure it out and probably, no one will kill you in the process. Let those unfounded fears wash out to sea as you hit the trails, perhaps blazing some of your own!

Hiking Groups

If you join a hiking group, you will likely be on an e-mail list of the person who has organized the group, the group leader. Often, that person may notify you weekly concerning the plans for a hike on a certain day of the week. The e-mail would serve to notify you of meeting places and times, bus lines used to access the trailhead, type and difficulty of hike snd possible late lunch plans for after the hiking is finished. The mail usually will not advise you who all is invited or who will attend as that is the business of the group leader. They usually don’t know themselves until all rsvp’s are e-mailed in. So if invited, respond quickly to the group leader so they may hold your spot or open a spot for another person on the waiting list.

Sometimes, the scenes along the trail defy description.

The groups are often held to 12 people or maybe 15. Most leaders don’t like to keep up with larger groups that sometimes spread out along the route as all persons have different skill levels, some faster and some slower. Larger groups also are louder and have more of an impact on the communities they seek to travel within. Concerning different levels of fitness, most people in a group end up being of similar abilities, it just works out that way. If you’re a slower hiker and unsure of your footing on dangerous trails, don’t rsvp for hikes that contain these elements. Do not depend on others to assist you along the way even though they will likely be glad to. Match your hiking skills to the hike’s description. Likewise, if you are a fast mover, you might not want to sign up for a slow hike to the park, one mile across town. Also, swap contact information including telephone numbers with all members in your group so if someone gets lost, you may be able to contact them. You’ll want their contact information to make plans with them for other reasons also.

Farewell and a Note on Route Planning

On planning your routes, I use Google Earth and/or Google Maps on my MAC Pro. My phone also has Google maps and an on-board compass. By using the satellite view with road overlays on Google Maps or Earth, I can quickly see what type of terrain might be encountered. Small trails can often be seen by zooming in. Some of this might be bushwhacking also which means crossing areas where there are no existing trails, you just make it up as you go/hike/walk! For the most part though, you can find lots of rural and rocky dirt roads to keep you entertained with many small single tracks connecting them.

Besides being a hobby that combines a lot of fun with both mental and physical heath benefits, it’s a pretty low-cost diversion with bus fares ridiculously cheap and destinations aplenty.

Have fun out there. I hope to see you on the trails!

Previous posts in Brian’s hiking series:
Urban hiking
Rural hiking
Hiking the Cajas
The people you meet
Transportation
Clothing
Essential equipment

Photos by Brian Buckner

Brian Buckner

Brian Buckner
After a successful career in manufacturing, Brian Buckner sold his commercial window fabrication plant and now makes his home with his wife, Edie, in Cuenca. He is a photojournalist and writer currently producing photo essays and stories of life in Ecuador. He and his... Read More
  • MountainHombre

    Thanks Brian, really great series.

    You’re a real asset to your readers, and, I suspect, a wonderful ambassador for “gringos”.

    • Brian Buckner

      Thanks Mountain for your kind and encouraging words. It feels great to know that I’m helping others. That’s what I like best. Always good to see your words.

  • M. Shahbaz Khan

    Nice wrap up Brian; the series has been a pleasant read.
    Next time we go out on a hike, I’m going to show you how to hug a tree–we’re going to do it together! It’s really neat. 🙂

    • Brian Buckner

      Hi Shahbaz, always great seeing your words here! Not sure on the tree hugging though. Can’t wait to see you back in Cuenca, that’s certain!